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Summer Reading - A Q&A with Joselyn Takacs

This summer, escape to Louisiana’s coastline with Joselyn Takacs' captivating debut novel, Pearce Oysters, where the rich heritage of the oyster industry comes alive. The Pearce family oyster business was left to Jordan and Benny Pearce after the death of their father. Jordan toils daily on their oyster boat trying to maintain his father's legacy. Meanwhile, Benny is frolicking in New Orleans with money he is receiving from the company despite his lack of engagement. Their mother May is still reeling from the grief of losing her husband, but trying valiantly to be a strong mother to her grown boys and to find love again. Jordan and Benny's relationship is fraught with jealousy and frustration, but also a deep brotherly love. When the 2010 oil spill occurs and the Pearce Oyster Company is in trouble, these fragile relationships are tested. 


Despite being a female author, Takacs writes about the relationship between two brothers with an authenticity that is hard to find among other female authors. The characters are relatable, strong and lovable, creating a novel that is a joy to read. Pearce Oysters is a character-driven book that also brings to life the atrocities caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in 2010 - a devastating event important enough to have many books written about it! 


Natalie had an opportunity to chat with the author to learn more about the personal and historical inspirations that shaped her intricate narrative.


NB: This book really delves into the oyster industry. Do you have a personal connection to this line of work?


JT: I don’t have a personal connection to the industry beyond my interest in it, which began with an interview I read back in 2010. A weekly paper in New Orleans interviewed an oyster farmer as his oyster farm was closing down and oil made its way to Louisiana’s coast. In the article, the farmer described how vulnerable his reefs were to the incoming oil. At that time, no one knew how long the spill would last, or what the long-term effects would be. He also said he harvested from reefs that his great-grandfather established. My heart went out to him–imagine carrying a torch in that way for your family–and that sparked my interest in the industry. 


NB: This is the first book I have read about the 2010 oil spill and it's such an important topic. I understand you lived in New Orleans during the Deepwater Horizon spill. How did that experience impact you and what made you want to research the disasters of the 2010 oil spill?


JT: When the spill was ongoing, I was furious about the accident and distraught when I thought about the scope of the disaster and its effect on the environment. But I also felt helpless, as we all were, to stop the spill. I was part of an activist community then like the one I described in the novel, and we protested the company’s use of chemical dispersant to clean up the spill. 


That summer, I brought some local shrimp and cooked it at home. I’ve never been allergic to shellfish, but after eating that shrimp, I had an allergic reaction–and wicked hives–that lasted for a couple of days. A friend said to me at the time, “I can’t believe you ate shrimp right now.” She implied, and I couldn’t help but suspect, that the shrimp was affected by exposure to the oil or the chemical dispersant, and of course, I’ll never know. But I thought at the time, surely if I can buy this shrimp at the store, it’s safe to eat. Anyway, that fear of Louisiana seafood was widespread, and local restaurants advertised that they were not selling seafood from the Gulf. The fear of that moment was real and profound, and that was interesting to write about in itself. 


NB: When did you decide to use this setting and idea for your novel?


JT: The idea occurred to me first when I was in my MFA program, but at that time, I was writing short stories, and those stories were small and personal in scope. I’d never attempted anything nearly as ambitious or research-intensive as a novel about a world-changing event, so I put it out of my mind for a while, but when I realized I wanted to write this novel, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me in terms of research.


NB: I have two boys so I really related to the relationship between Jordan and Benny. It was clearly fraught with competition but also a deep love. How did you write about this relationship so authentically as a woman? 


JT: I love this question. Benny and Jordan both have aspects of me in them, so that helped me relate to them and bring them to life. But also, I have a brother, and we couldn’t be more different in temperament, and we still love one another. So that helped me dramatize that sibling dynamic. 


NB: May was such a wonderful and complex mother figure despite dealing with her own grief. She was very relatable. Did you base her character on anyone in your own life?


JT: When I create characters, I try to take something I know and then amplify it, so May has some of my qualities–her nervousness and solicitude are familiar–which made her sections the easiest to write. They came out like a song. But I think May was also drawn from several Southern women I know. 


NB: Do you have any ideas for a second novel?


JT: I wish I could say I did! I only hope the second novel comes out faster than the first one. As a palate cleanser, I’m trying my hand at screenwriting in the meantime.


NB: I absolutely loved this book. Can you share some of your favorites to add to my summer reading list? 


JT: Of course! Here are a few of my recent favorites: 

  • Thrillville, USA by Taylor Koekkoek (a short story collection published last year).

  • Absolution by Alice McDermott (published last November)

  • Free Love by Tessa Hadley (published in 2022)



A bookworm since birth, Natalie Bissonnette, reads and reviews more than 100 books a year through her Instagram account @410treatyourshelves. A lover of all books, she especially loves historical fiction.

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